Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Old Dog Don Quixote

There is a large wind farm going up a few miles down the road from where I live.  The windmills are massive steel structures, perhaps 165 tons each.  And they are transported in large pieces that take up two lanes of highway.  When the farm is completed, there will be literally hundreds of them.  In addition, there is an extensive network of towers being erected to transport the power—hundreds of steel towers and uncountable miles of wire. 

It’s my understanding that steel is fairly energy-intensive to produce.

One web site reports that it costs 30,000 a year to maintain a single windmill, and that they have about a 20-25 year lifespan.  In addition to the energy necessary for maintenance (cost and energy are not equivalent), how much energy does it take to produce the steel, and fabricate, transport, and assemble the parts?  And the wire?  And the towers?  I assume the towers and wire have a finite lifespan as well.

Will a windmill be able to provide enough energy over its lifespan to produce its replacement?  Or will its replacement also be manufactured in coal powered steel mills and transported by diesel powered trucks and assembled with diesel powered cranes (the cranes and trucks also manufactured in coal powered plants)?  

Are wind farms (and solar farms and etc.) a real solution to any of our energy problems?  Or are they just another way of accelerating the rate at which the industrial machine is consuming the planet?  

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